‘In this environment, planning for change is a critical aspect of the CIO role’

7 Aug 2020

Joe McKenna. Image: Syntax

Syntax’s Joe McKenna discusses current IT challenges, the move to mobile, and his ‘four key pillars’ of security.

Joe McKenna is the global CIO of Syntax, a US-based managed IT services provider with more than 400 customers in over 20 industries around the world.

McKenna has more than 30 years of experience in infrastructure, design, implementation and deployment. He took on the role of global CIO earlier this year, having previously been senior director of engineering, and now manages several cross-functional teams at Syntax.

‘Our customers are facing many of these same challenges that we are’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As the global CIO, my team and I are looking to provide IT solutions that deliver efficiencies for Syntax’s internal operations and drive business benefits and value.

I proactively gather and understand the different IT requirements for our internal teams, such as operations, finance, sales, customer support, security and compliance. Then, I blend those needs into an overall IT strategy and develop a plan to guide execution. In this ever-changing environment, dealing with, planning for and enabling change is a critical aspect of the CIO role.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

As a managed cloud service provider, we run many mission-critical systems like SAP, Oracle E-Business Suite and JD Edwards for our customers. As Syntax’s global CIO, I work to solve many challenges that can arise when running our business.

Our customers are facing many of these same challenges that we are, so solving our internal IT challenges with an eye towards ‘productising’ the solution allows us to utilise our current resources more efficiently and create new opportunities to service our customers in other areas.

How big is your team? Do you outsource?

My team consists of 15 individuals who work on development, integration, project management and architecture activities. At times, we outsource for consulting on some important projects, such as ServiceNow development and integration efforts.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

Thankfully, a lot of Syntax’s operations are already digitised. Our main business functions are in ServiceNow, so we’re focusing on leveraging this data now.

We are working on gaining deeper insights from the data we’ve compiled by comparing customer data against financial data and sales trends. This data project is just the start of how Syntax is working to continue to serve our customers’ needs and assist them in driving their business forward.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Working and socialising has changed significantly with the global pandemic. With the increased processing power of mobile devices and more bandwidth available today, we can be more remote and mobile. Applications are moving from the traditional office to remote anyway, changing how applications and data are managed, deployed and presented.

In the managed cloud services industry, our customers increasingly have a variety of cloud environments as we shift toward a hybrid- and multi-cloud world. The keys to planning, building and running applications in these cloud environments are maintenance, troubleshooting, patching, security, data protection and quickly recovering from issues that pop up. Everyone is driving to do it faster, better and cheaper.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

There are three important aspects to protecting your data: security, business continuity and disaster recovery. Encryption at rest is an easy way to start. Another place to start is with proper management of access control. In other words, you must control who can access your organisation’s data. It is important to create a proper data protection plan that includes backups, snapshots and replication.

You also need to consider how you secure your IT environment. At Syntax, we believe there are four key pillars for a minimum security posture: endpoint protection, perimeter security using firewall and IDS/IPs, vulnerability assessment and management, and security information and event management. These pillars sit at the top of our business continuity and disaster recovery strategy.

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